The small alpine community of Courmayeur is situated beneath the monolithic Monte Bianco peak on the Italian side of the French-Italian border. Towering at some 4810m Monte Bianco, or otherwise known by its less melodic name Mont Blanc, is Europe’s tallest mountain. A suitable location to hold a mountain bike race!
Being a ski town, summer brings a somewhat sedate appearance to the town with a lot of shops and such closed. Although the ones that counted were open: supermarkets, cafés, Gucci shop. You know, just the necessities. Turns out, wearing your bike kit into a Gucci store is frowned upon though. Not chic enough. To each their own, I guess…
It was great to get out into the valleys of the area during the week preceding the race and explore a little more than just the racetrack, which is so often the only thing I see of a race area. Val Veny and Val Ferret are two valleys that originate in Courmayeur, running parallel with the Monte Bianco mountain range, with both offering awesome views of the glaciers and waterfalls that descend the range. Although, I did appreciate Val Ferret a tad more as Val Veny was the home of some particularly nasty efforts that I did. Intervals: an easy way sour a day in the mountains!
With touristing over, it was time to get into race mode. First up were some practice laps on Tuesday. After one lap, it was clear that mud tyres would be a necessity to, somewhat ironically, make it cleanly around the track. Parts of the course wound their way through alpine meadows, which sounds heavenly, but when mixed with rain and mud, the grass turns to a slippery mess. With my Maxxis Beavers on and a 32-tooth chain ring, as opposed to my usual 34-tooth, I was off and the feelings were a world apart, with the amazing grip on offer from the Beavers and with the slightly easier gearing of the 32t, I was a lot more comfortable on the course.
But, during final practice on Friday a completely new track had materialised. In place of mud and endless drifts was dust! Thankfully the endless drifts still remained! A quick change back to my Maxxis Ikons and I was good to go.
Race day quickly arrived and once my final warm up was complete it was time to toe the start line and give it everything. Although, this mysterious ‘everything’ took its time to emerge. I had a dismal start and quickly fell back through the field. I had predicted a slightly diminished start speed due to the fatigue I was carrying after my training block, but not quite to this degree.
It wasn’t until the beginning of the second lap that I was able to emerge from the group of riders I was with and start riding the course how I liked. And what a track it was. With fast climbs and even faster descents through the picture perfect alpine setting, it was an awesome place to ride. But also to race, as the track was a great mix of single track, road and wide paths that lent itself to some great racing.
Over the course of the second lap I pushed hard and took a fair few places back that I had initially lost. Laps three and four were both a lonely affair. The fifth lap brought a lot more excitement with the feeling of the lead motorbike catching me. I fought hard and managed to catch a few more riders over the course of the lap to the finish.
Then it was time for the sixth and final lap. My start may have been dismal but my last lap was leagues lower. I crept around the course, fending off cramps with big gulps of drink that were not nearly enough. It was a case of too little too late. A mistake I plan to rectify this weekend in Kirchberg, Austria, for the KitzAlp XCO.
In the end I finished 33rd overall and 14th U23. A nice result but one I hope to build upon over the coming races. All up it was an awesome excursion into the Italian Alps, with amazing views and of course the Bianchi getting a feel for its home dirt!
On to the next one!